Monday, April 11, 2005

Algeria 3

[This short history of the French experience with the Algerian insurgency begins here, and continues here.]

De Gaulle came to power with the enthusiastic support of the Algerian colons, and in his rhetoric he played openly to their desire to keep Algeria a part of France and French culture. But he was a realist, who knew that France's days as a colonial power were over. For the time (1958) his principal job was to preserve France from a coup or civil war at the hands of the military men who had engineered his return to power. And so, for the time, he spoke in the language of the colons, while carefully avoiding any specific commitments.

But privately, he called their dreams of French Algeria "a ruinous utopia," and said, "L'Afrique est foutue et L'Algérie avec."

By 1960 he had gotten a firm grip on the state, steered passage of the constitution that created the Fifth Republic, and broken or jettisoned all the men who had propelled him into office. Now he turned his attention to Algeria.

He opened secret talks with FLN leaders, then in January 1961 he held a referrendum, in which Algeria voted overwhelmingly, as he knew it would, for freedom, though it was papered over with the hollow qualification, "in association with France." FLN terrorist leaders were set free from French prisons to join talks about independence.

Now it was the European-ancestry colons, betrayed and desperate, who turned to terror. Several army leaders in the colony attempted a rebellion, but their conscripts did not follow them, and it collapsed. But the people took matters into their own hands, and formed the Organization de l'Armée Secrète (OAS), which fought tooth and nail against the inevitable.

The OAS was, or soon became, the mirror image of the terror-drenched FLN. It killed some 12,000 civilians, mostly Muslims, as well as hundreds of police officers. As before, at the hands of the FLN, the moderate Muslims suffered most.

The OAS leader, General Salan, who once upon a time had been an honorable soldier, issued orders in February 1962 to rain Molotov cocktails on police "night and day," and to "destroy the best Muslim elements in the liberal professions so as to oblige the Muslim population to have recourse to ourselves," as well as "to paralyze the powers that be and make it impossible for them to exercise authority. Brutal actions will be generalized over the whole territory ... at works of art and all that represents the exercise of authority in a manner to lead towards the maximum of general insecurity and total paralysis of the country."

The seeds of Leninism and Hitler's fascism, transplanted to Palestine and nurtured into dark blooms, now had been transplanted to Algeria, both "black" and "White."

To fight the OAS, the French colonial government continued the brutality and torture it has employed against the FLN. But as this time the victims were white citizens of an African colony, fighting to retain colonial control, there was no howl of indignation from the liberals of Paris, or the enlightened Third World dictators, or the Arab states.

All the OAS really managed to accomplish was driving the final nail in the possibility of a European presence in the new Algeria. The French began to move toward a policy of resettling the descendants of the European settlers in France.

With end-game in the air, both sides ramped up their orgy of bloodletting. A Muslim mob sacked the Great Synagogue in Algiers, killing the Jewish officials, shredding the Torah, and writing "Death to the Jews" on the walls. The OAS sacked a social center that trained handicapped children and shot six men to death, including Mouloud Feraoun, a friend of Camus, who called him the "last of the moderates."

When the OAS murdered 18 gendarmes and 7 soldiers in March 1962, the French commander retaliated by smashing "the last redoubt of Algérie français, the pied noir working-class quarter of Bab-el-Oued, with its 60,000 inhabitants. He attacked it with rocket-firing dive-bombers, tanks firing at point-blank range and 20,000 infantry. It was the suppression of the 1870 Commune all over again; but this episode does not figure in the Marxist textbooks." [Paul Johnson, "Modern Times," p.504].

Some 1.4 million people fled Algeria to France. The community of Europeans that had flourished there since 1830 was reduced to a mere 30,000. The end of the exodus of Europeans back to France in 1963 ended the conflict -- almost. The departing French took laboratories, oil terminals, and libraries with them, but they left something behind. The agreements with the FLN -- in effect a French capitulation -- gave no protection to the quarter of a million Muslim officials, many of them low-ranking, who had faithfully served the French government when it had promised a peaceful, multi-racial Algeria. Only 15,000 or so could afford to flee.

"The rest were shot without trial, used as human mine-detectors to clear the minefields along the Tunesian border, tortured, made to dig their own tombs and swallow their military decorations before being killed; some were burned alive, castrated, dragged behind trucks, fed to the dogs; there were cases where entire families including tiny children were murdered together."
[Johnson, p.504]

Camus, alas, was wrong. Feraoun was not the last of the moderates. But by the time the FLN got finished killing as many as 150,000 of them, there were too few left to matter. By the mid-60s, the new leadership of the nation had even purged itself of every member who had been brought up in a Western tradition or achieved a European education.

Algeria was the first modern terrorist thugocracy, a nation born of a cowardly father -- European lack of will -- and a cruel mother -- unrelenting terrorism on a grand scale. Naturally, the country fell into complete economic collapse. Twenty years after he served at its first president Ben Bella admitted, "We have nothing. No industry -- only scrap iron." That would have been bad enough, but throughout the '60s and early '70s, Algeria served as "the chief resort of international terrorists of all kinds." The terrorist-state survived there, and spread its seeds across Africa and the Middle East.

The FLN in Algeria polished the model of 20th century state power in the hands of rotten-hearted leaders. Islamists later would take that model in hand, and, under a coat of green paint, attempt to pass it off as the new Caliphate.